There are some pieces of writing advice that are so common that everyone knows them. One such piece of advice is that writers learn to write by reading other writers. So let's take a look at Julia Quinn's romance novel, Bridgerton: The Duke and I (that was originally published as The Duke and I).
If you haven't read this novel yet, please go read it first. Then, come back and see if you agree with these lessons—or if you have additional lessons to share. Consider this your spoiler alert.
Bridgerton: The Duke and I is a romance novel set in Regency era (1811-20) London, England. The romance is centered on Simon Bassett, the new Duke of Hastings, and Daphne Bridgerton, the fourth of eight Bridgerton children.
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Let's dive in to the 6 lessons I learned about writing from Bridgerton: The Duke and I.
6 Lessons Learned From Bridgerton: The Duke and I, by Julia Quinn
Lesson #1: Set the stakes early.
In a 13-page prologue, Quinn shares the birth and early life of Simon Bassett, including the reasons why he comes to hate his father, his father's title, and marriage. It also reveals one of Simon's darkest secrets that will shape the rest of his early life until he meets Daphne Bridgerton.
Speaking of Daphne, it literally only takes a few paragraphs before her mother says, "How am I supposed to find you a husband while that woman is slandering your name?" After all, Daphne is now of marrying age, though she has not been happy with her suitors so far. (By the way, "that woman" is the delightful Lady Whistledown, a pseudonym for the author of a society gossip paper.)
Setting the stakes early helps give your story focus for the reader and writer alike.
Lesson #2: Hatch an unusually daring plan.
Simon Bassett's father has died making Simon the new Duke of Hastings. As such, he's returned home to find himself the most eligible bachelor in London with one huge problem: He does not want to marry. Like ever. Meanwhile, Daphne is only receiving attention from guys she's not interested in while the guys she might like all consider her just a friend.
So Simon proposes a daring plan: Let's pretend we're courting each other. That way, Simon can avoid all the "Ambitious Mamas" while Daphne attracts more attention from men (when the Duke is not around). Of course, it quickly becomes evident that the only way to fool everyone that they're dating is to go through all the typical courtship rituals, and well, you can probably tell where this is headed.
The fake courtship offers a fun plot twist, sure, but it's also the kind of hook that draws in agents, editors, and readers to see how it all plays out.
Lesson #3: Focus on the perspective of the two would-be lovers.
Bridgerton: The Duke and I is almost laser-focused on the perspectives of Simon and Daphne. I say almost, because there is a moment early on where readers enter Daphne's mother's head, and there's the fun excerpts from Lady Whistledown's Society Papers. Since Quinn puts her readers in the heads of Simon and Daphne, they do know that both characters deeply want and care for each other, but they also have their secrets.
If Quinn had spent a lot of time in the thoughts of other secondary characters, it would've detracted from the main story: The romance between Simon Bassett and Daphne Bridgerton. This is why most agents advise writers pick a perspective and roll with it: Because it helps focus the story.
Lesson #4: Build a world that shapes the story.
One interesting thing about Bridgerton: The Duke and I is that the world is fully formed, and it's different than contemporary society. As such, there are rules on how many dances a couple can have together at an event, what is considered appropriate in behavior, and the level of knowledge about taboo subjects such as making love and how babies are created.
At times, it adds to the humor (for instance, Violet's abstract talk with Daphne about "marital duty"), except for when it adds to the drama. The same world also forces Simon's hand in getting married to Daphne, though he's still sure he won't give her any children. In fact, for Simon's arc especially, expectation (and wanting to thwart that expectation) seems to motivate him through most of the book.
The lesson here is to avoid dropping your characters into a void that you call a world; instead, create a world in which your characters live.
Lesson #5: Start with humor followed by drama followed by happy ending.
When people asked me about Bridgerton: The Duke and I early on, my common refrain was, "This book is so funny." From language in the prologue to the early dialogue between Daphne and her mother, as well as the excerpts from Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, this book kicks humor into high gear early on. Of course, I love the dialogue between Simon and Daphne, that's fun and makes their eventual "deal" feel perfectly reasonable and not forced.
That said, the humor leads to drama when they have to start making hard decisions about their future. Both Daphne and Simon want to make each other happy, but they have different visions of how to make that a reality. This creates tension for a couple hundred pages after they're actually married (and should be happy).
The humor pulls the reader in and shows a delightful side to each character, which allows for empathy when going through the drama before the happy (notice I didn't say "happily ever after," because, who knows?) ending.
Lesson #6: Put both lovers on equal footing.
Simon wants to make Daphne happy; Daphne wants to make Simon happy. Of course, the only real way to happiness is for both to realize they need each other to be happy. Simon has to realize that he loves Daphne more than he hates his father. In fact, it's a nice touch that he doesn't read his father's letters. As a reader, I kept waiting for their secrets to be revealed (like Daphne), but they ultimately had no bearing on Simon's growth as a character.
Likewise, Daphne's pregnancy (or lack of) does not bring them to a common vision. By the way, the possibility of her pregnancy gives Daphne a secret that even she doesn't know the answer. Instead of one person convincing or tricking the other, it's their separation that makes them both realize what they truly want out of life and each other. They both came to an agreement about a fake courtship in the beginning of the story; at the end, they come to an agreement about a real life together.
So put both lovers on equal footing to create a delightful and real happy ending.
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